With the year waning, the leaves turning brown and the weather turning damp (well, damper) it must be time to take a look back at the games that tickled all of our fancies so far in 2009, before everyone buys ODST and Modern Warfare and forgets about everything else entirely. Any that you think we’ve missed, stick them in the comments below…
10. Resident Evil 5
Marred by controversy, dogged with accusations of being little more than a remake of its predecessor, RE 5 managed to dissuade most of its naysayers on release. A spectacular mix of action and horror, with co-op added to boot, the game took the series in an all new direction. Traditionalists baulked at the run and gun gameplay, but when the game hit top gear, with the infected charging in from every direction, only a corpse wouldn’t feel their pulse quickening. It may not play as smoothly as some other shooters, but the atmosphere and tension it creates are second to none. There are shocks aplenty, cameos to make fanboys drool and plenty of bullets, herbs and knives. It’s formulaic, perhaps, but it’s a formula that works very well, and for a first true next gen outing, Resident Evil 5 is an excellent addition to the canon.
9. Shadow Complex
Not really an Epic game, but an epic game nonetheless. Carrying on the ever increasing trend of more complex Xbox Live games, Chair’s 2-and-a-bit-D shooter/explorer, backed up by Mr. Clifford Bleszinski’s studio, is a delight. Deep and action packed, Shadow Complex works like a giant puzzle, with areas of the map opening up as you unlock different gadgets and abilities. The gameplay harks back to the golden days of Castlevania and Metroid, but is brought up to date with Unreal Engine 3 graphics and stylish sound. It’d be irresponsible to gloss over the controversy that surrounds Orson Scott Card, the sci-fi novelist behind the story, but Chair’s game should be celebrated for what it is, not the political ideas of a man who had little to do with its creation.
8. Red Faction: Guerilla
There’s little more satisfying in life than the mindless destruction of property, especially when it belongs to other people, and doubly especially if those other people killed your brother and are using your friends as virtual slave-labour. Red Faction: Guerilla takes the series into third person, arms you with a hammer and invites you to smash the holy hell out of anything that doesn’t move, but looks like it could collapse. The story of counter revolutionaries and evil corporations is a bit too po-faced, but the destruction challenges and free-form gameplay more than make up for that. Anything that encourages civil disobedience and hammer swinging is fine by me, and if I can engage in those pastimes without being sent to jail for long periods of my life, then that’s even better.
7. Tales of Monkey Island
The adventure genre has had something of a rennaissance in recent years, thanks in no small part to the work of Telltale games, so it seems only fitting that they’ve been given the reins to the hottest property on the adventuring block. The first real Monkey Island release since 2001, Telltale’s chopped up new entry may only be two episodes old, but it’s like returning to a comfortable old seat, that makes you laugh out loud. And contains pirates. Tales of Monkey Island is easily the best new point-and-clicker this year, full of wit, whimsy and true hilarity. If you’ve never experienced a Guybrush Threepwood adventure, or if you’re a veteran looking for your next fix, then this is a must buy.
6. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
A squished down take on GTA, but one that loses none of the humour, violence or fun that we’ve all become so accustomed to. Playing more like the original, top down affairs, Chinatown gives you an isometric perspective on the world as you beat, shoot and drive your way through triads, gang members and hookers. Everything in the package oozes class, from the comic book style cut scenes to the graphics that squeeze every drop out of the DS hardware, to the intricately woven and expertly presented narrative. A triumph in terms of gameplay, as well as innovation, GTA: Chinatown Wars is a perfect dose of handheld crime.
Chainsaw-fisted, bloody and bold, Madworld was a rare “mature” title in a Nintendo year already dominated by more shovelware and arm wiggling casual demographic pacifiers. Designed by some of the people behind Devil May Cry, Okami and Viewtiful Joe, the first game from the newly created Platinum Studios is a gristle fuelled slash through a monochrome vision of our televisual future. A cross between Sin City, The Running Man and a hilarious trip to the abattoir, Madworld ticks a lot of boxes that hardcore Nintendo-ites haven’t had ticked for a long time, and for that, it justly earns its place on this list. Plus, you can stick signs through peoples heads, which is pretty awesome, right?
4. Battlefield 1943
The Battlefield experience, boiled down to its essential components and unleashed as a deathmatch delight. One of the best selling game on Xbox Live and PSN, Battlefield 1943 is a pared-down brute of a game; if it was a car it’d be a matte green 4×4 with a lunatic hanging off the side firing blind at anything that moved. Wonderfully balanced, accessible to all, and with enough replay value to keep the hardcore happy, the game may not be particularly realistic, but it makes up for that with sheer enjoyment. You’ll always find a game, the maps, whilst there are only four, are big enough to keep you interested, and the combat varied enough that you won’t find yourself dying constantly. Then there are the vehicles, the flying deathmatch mode, the different classes to choose from, this is one downloadable game that’ll keep you playing for hours on end.
3. Batman Arkham Asylum
The first game that actually made you feel like Batman, not just some berk with his pants on the outside of his trousers. Swinging from the rafters, hiding in the shadows, punching goons repeatedly in the face, Arkham Asylum has it all. Add to this a smattering of ingenious gadgets, a range of excruciating take-down techniques, a fantastic soundtrack and some stellar voice work from Mark Hamill and we’re all in for a special treat. True, the boss fights aren’t great, and sometimes it does get a little repetitive, but for sheer, visceral thrill, there’s little else that has come close all year.
2. Street Fighter 4
The purest fighting experience out there; Capcom took the classic Street Fighter template, gave it a lick of stunning next-gen paint, and the outcome is one of the best games ever made. The refined fighting system feels intuitive, the online play is fast and fluid and the overall presentation is breathtaking. There’s nothing that can quite match the thrill of the first time you connect with an Ultra Combo; it’ll take a good while for the smile to fade from your face. The new characters fit well into the series, and, apart from Seth, or Cheapy McCheapcheap as he is affectionately known, are welcome additions. You won’t find a better brawler this side of 2010, I can assure you of that.
1. Killzone 2
Years in the making, heralded as the PS3 killer app, the one game that would finally sway the console war back in Sony’s favour, a “Halo killer”, Killzone 2 may not have fulfilled some of the loftier ambitions its fans had hoped for, but taken on its own merits, it’s a fantastic achievement. It’s a title that sets the benchmark for visual accomplishment, as well as immersion, all wrapped up in the kind of multiplayer bundle that would make anyone thirsty for another few frags. It may not be revolutionary, it may not have killed off any of its rivals, but what it did do is give Sony’s console a must have exclusive, and that’s a pretty impressive feat.